One of the things I have learned when it comes to spiritual writing is this: steal from the best. I am fortunate that I have a wonderfully profound pastor at my parish and his homily on the 1st Sunday of Advent was about longing.
One of the big problems of this season is that we fill our lives with Christmas music, Christmas decorations, Christmas shopping, and Christmas everything that when the actual day of Christmas comes around, we are almost sick of it. It is amazing to me how quickly we go from “O Holy Night” on Christmas Eve to “What’s your New Year’s Resolution.” And yet, it is the time during and immediately after Christmas Day that we are supposed to fill our lives with the Christmas Spirit.
I often joke with my friends that I only have one rule in my house: no Christmas-themed items are to be displayed until after Thanksgiving. This sometimes causes some consternation to my wife who loves everything Christmas. But my reason for holding off is that I want to make the build-up to the holiday special.
In the book of Leviticus, there is much written about the “holy.” There are many ways you can define “holiness.” But in Leviticus, the “holy” is that which is set apart for God.
In my home, we try to make Advent a time that is set apart for God. Now of course, all time belongs to God, but our liturgical calendar is set up the way it is for a reason. And Advent is a time set aside for longing.
One of the deepest truths about life is that it is in a constant state of flux. We are constantly in a state of anticipation of things to come because the future is not certain to our troubled minds. Because of this, humans live in a state of expectation. This is both good and bad.
We look forward to the good things to come like graduations, birthdays, weddings, vacations, retirements, and the like. Sometimes we count down the days until the moment occurs. As someone who adores movies, I ball up with excitement the closer we get to opening night for a movie I want to see. In fact, in the days before online ticket sales were big, my friends and I camped out overnight on the sidewalk to buy tickets to the midnight showing of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. I remember that time and the time waiting in the theater before the movie began. The entire auditorium was thick with anticipation, you could cut the tension with a knife. Why? Because the children who were raised on Star Wars were about to see a new Star Wars movie for the first time in sixteen years. Regardless of how many people felt about the actual movie, I experienced that time with great joy.
But human beings also anticipate the bad. We wait for news about medical test results. We watch the news, dreading bad economic news. We spend thousands each year on insurance policies we hope we will never need. In this way, we also live in a spirit of anticipation. We are waiting, and fearing the worst.
And this is our state throughout most of life. When someone we love dies, their journey is over. For them, the anticipation is done. They find themselves in the loving arms of the Savior. The ones that are left behind are the ones who still live in anticipation, waiting for that day to be reunited.
This is the purpose of Advent. Advent reflects life’s expectation. It is also one of the reasons why the readings at Mass often deal with the end of the world. Jesus told us that we are in the End of Days and that His return would be soon. So we live in expectation. In Advent, we experience that same expectation: we look forward to all of the good in the holiday. But at the same time there can be some fear: will it be different now that a loved one is gone? Will I be able to find that perfect gift for someone? Will I give my children a Christmas memory they will cherish?
Compacted in these four weeks are the hopes and fears that we experience in this expectant life. But also, Advent reminds us something very important about this journey of expectation:
The journey comes to an end.
This is why there is so much time taken to celebrate. The Church takes days to eight full days to celebrate Christmas, known as the Christmas Octave. The number eight has a special significance. It took seven days for God to create the world in Genesis 1 (if you include the day He rests). Seven is the holy number of God, but in this context it also represents the creation of time. The number eight, therefore, reperesents moving beyond time and entering eternity. The Christmas Octave is a little taste of the eterinity of Heaven. It reminds us that for the people of faith, there is an end to our longing. All of our hopes will be realized and our fears will pass away. We will enter into a peace beyond all understanding.
So this Advent, let us set our hearts in anticipation of this peace, a peace that Christ brings do us at Christmas.
Copyright 2022, WL Grayson